Accessing the Inner Subliminal Consciousness

The Upanishads describe 4 states of consciousness, the waking, the dream, the sleep and the state beyond these 3. Sri Aurobindo points out that these are meant to symbolically represent the state of awareness in the outer world (waking), the state of awareness in the subliminal world (dream), the state of awareness in the superconscient world (sleep) and the 4th state, is the one transcendent Reality.

The reason that the subliminal state is called the dream state is that is in fact the primary vehicle that most people have available to them to gain information from this subliminal realm of awareness. The other main entry is through the state of trance, and this is not generally accessible to the vast majority of people on a consistent basis.

Sri Aurobindo describes the relationship between waking and the subliminal consciousness as follows: “Our waking state is unaware of its connection with the subliminal being, although it receives from it,–but without any knowledge of the place of origin,–the inspirations, intuitions, ideas, will-suggestions, sense-suggestions, urges to action that rise from below or from behind our limited surface existence.”

“The subliminal, with the subconscious as an annexe of itself,–for the subconscious is also part of the behind-the-veil entity,–is the seer of inner things and of supraphysical experiences; the surface subconscious is only a transcriber.”

If one can enter into the yogic trance, and achieve the inner waking state, there can be a more direct and clear communication between the subliminal and the waking consciousness. If, however, this access occurs during sleep, then it tends to be figured in the images of dreams. Dreams in this case become “windows” to information that can and does influence the way we think and act in our waking lives, and thus, dreams are not simply to be dismissed as unreal or illusory. Understanding the role that dreams play in helping us access the wider awareness found at the subliminal level can provide us a tool of real value in our process of seeking and applying knowledge. It is no surprise that common wisdom holds that “sleeping on a problem or a decision” can lead to clarity…one wakes with the knowledge of what should be done… This represents the power of the subliminal providing us knowledge not easily seen or known by our limited waking awareness.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pp. 426-427


The Inner Subliminal Self

Having now referred to the Subliminal Self in our discussion of the creation of dreams, it is necessary to describe this part of our being more thoroughly, and Sri Aurobindo takes up the question. He points out that the subliminal self is not a creation out of the inconscience, but actually it is a meeting-place for the “consciousness that emerges from below by evolution and the consciousness that has descended from above for involution.”

In fact, however, “this inner existence is the concealed origin of almost all in our surface self that is not a construction of the first inconscient World-Energy or a natural developed functioning of our surface consciousness or a reaction of it to impacts from the outside universal Nature,–and even in this construction, these functionings, these reactions the subliminal takes part and exercises on them a considerable influence.”

There is within this subliminal self “an inner mind, an inner vital being of ourselves, an inner or subtle-physical being larger than our outer being and nature.”

It is this subliminal being that actually can enter the planes of the mental, vital and subtle-physical realms that are part of the universal Nature, and it is not confined to the limited body, life and mind of the individual. It therefore is larger and wider than the consciousness of our surface being, and is able to act as a conduit or channel for those larger forces and energies to shape and act within the framework of the surface being.

Sri Aurobindo also points out, in continuation of our discussion regarding the dream-consciousness, that “It is into this large realm of interior existence that our mind and vital being retire when they withdraw from the surface activities whether by sleep or inward-drawn concentration or by the inner plunge of trance.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pp. 425-426

Becoming Wholly Conscious In Sleep

Sri Aurobindo raises another interesting possibility in the opportunity for humans to actually become wholly conscious in the sleep-state: “It is even possible to become wholly conscious in sleep and follow throughout from beginning to end or over large stretches the stages of our dream-experience; it is found that then we are aware of ourselves passing from state after state of consciousness to a brief period of luminous and peaceful dreamless rest, which is the true restorer of the energies of the waking nature, and then returning by the same way to the waking consciousness. It is normal, as we thus pass from state to state, to let the previous experiences slip away from us; in the return only the more vivid or those nearest to the waking surface are remembered: but this can be remedied,–a greater retention is possible or the power can be developed of going back in memory from dream to dream, from state to state, till the whole is once more before us. A coherent knowledge of sleep-life, though difficult to achieve or to keep established, is possible.”

Western dream researchers, including psychoanalysts starting with Sigmund Freud, as well as modern day researchers such as C.G. Jung, have worked hard to develop techniques for bringing the dream-state into conscious awareness. Using regression, hypnosis, psycho-analysis, they have tried to take the subject inward to catch the thread and bring it to conscious recall.

Sri Aurobindo provides us an insight here that with the right focus and effort, each individual could develop the capacity of becoming conscious and extracting the essence of the dream experience through awareness and attention. The opportunities here for research and experimentation are obviously quite interesting and should be looked at by Western researchers as they extend their understanding of the inner psychology.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pg. 425

Conscious Dreaming

Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that it is not only possible, but in fact, extremely valuable to become conscious in the deeper states of sleep and thus utilize the dream-state from a state of conscious awareness. “It is possible too to become conscious deeper within our subliminal selves and we are then aware of experiences on other planes of our being or even in supraphysical worlds to which sleep gives us a right of secret entry. A transcript of such experiences reaches us; but the transcriber here is not the subconscious, it is the subliminal, a greater dream-builder.”

Sri Aurobindo goes on to describe the action of the subliminal in the creation of dreams: “If the subliminal thus comes to the front in our dream-consciousness, there is sometimes an activity of our subliminal intelligence,–dream becomes a series of thoughts, often strangely or vividly figured, problems are solved which our waking consciousness could not solve, warnings, premonitions, indications of the future, veridical dreams replace the normal subconscious incoherence. There can come also a structure of symbol-images, some of a mental character, some of a vital nature: the former are precise in their figures, clear in their significance; the latter are often complex and baffling to our waking consciousness, but, if we can seize the clue, they reveal their own sense and peculiar system of coherence. Finally, there can come to us the records of happenings seen or experienced by us on other planes of our own being or of universal being into which we enter: these have sometimes, like the symbolic dreams, a strong bearing on our own inner and outer life or the life of others, reveal elements of our or their mental being and life-being or disclose influences on them of which our waking self is totally ignorant; but sometimes they have no such bearing and are purely records of other organised systems of consciousness independent of our physical existence.”

This action of becoming awake and aware of the subliminal level of dreams opens up enormous possibilities for knowledge, understanding and insight to our lives and our relationships. Many people have in fact experienced the solution of problems or the clarification of a decision process by “sleeping on it” and Sri Aurobindo has given us here a clue as to the process involved.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pp. 424-425

Dreaming in Dreamless Sleep

It has become accepted dogma in the scientific community that studies the phenomenon of dreaming that there are various stages of sleep, and that dreams only occur in what is called “rem sleep”, but that there are “deeper” levels of sleep, known as dreamless sleep, in which no dreaming occurs.

Sri Aurobindo however takes another approach to this question: “But, in fact, in what we call dreamless sleep, we have gone into a profounder and denser layer of the subsconscient, a state too involved, too immersed or too obscure, dull and heavy to bring to the surface its structures, and we are dreaming there but unable to grasp or retain in the recording layer of subconscience these more obscure dream-figures. Or else, it may be, the part of our mind which still remains active in the sleep of the body has entered into the inner domains of our being, the subliminal mental, the subliminal vital, the subtle-physical, and is there lost to all active connection with the surface parts of us.”

The question is thus, not that dreaming suddenly ceases when we go into a deeper state of sleep, but that we are simply unable, under normal circumstances, to bring awareness to this state of consciousness and thus, we are unable to access the dreams that occur at this level. Sri Aurobindo continues “But if we have gone deeper inward, the record fails or cannot be recovered and we have the illusion of dreamlessness; but the activity of the inner dream consciousness continues behind the veil of the now mute and inactive subconscient surface.”

There are states of awareness that can be developed wherein we can actually participate in, and gain awareness of the dream consciousness of these subliminal states, and in fact, the subliminal planes open up vast new opportunities for experiences beyond those of the individual. Carl Jung spent the greater part of his career working to gain understanding and access to the subliminal realms which he called the “collective unconscious”. These realms provide archetypal images which represent deeper forces and motive springs of action than the individual can draw upon from his own limited experiential life.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pp. 423-424

Dream State as Gateway to the Subconscious Impulses

Dreams may provide us insight to the subconscient springs of action that we suppress during our waking consciousness. Sri Aurobindo explains: “When we sleep and the surface physical part of us, which is in its first origin here an output from the Inconscient, relapses towards the originating inconscience, it enters into this subconscious element, antechamber or substratum, and there it finds the impressions of its past or persistent habits of mind and experiences,–for all have left their mark on our subconscious part and have there a power of recurrence. In its effect on our waking self this recurrence often takes the form of a reassertion of old habits, impulses dormant or suppressed, rejected elements of the nature, or it comes up as some other not so easily recognisable, some peculiar disguised or subtle result of these suppressed or rejected but not erased impulses or elements. In the dream-consciousness the phenomenon is an apparently fanciful construction, a composite of figures and movements built upon or around the buried impressions with a sense in them that escapes the waking intelligence because it has no clue to the subconscient’s system of significances.”

We see here then both a conservative power that continues to feed these old habits and impulses back into the awareness for quite some time after they have been consciously rejected, as well as an opportunity for our observation to understand the process of elimination and change of the outer nature that we undertake in the practice of yogic discipline. The observation of dreams and understanding the source and energy behind the symbolic or representational events we experience in the dream state can give us a clearer sense of how much work it takes to clear out this atavistic elements of our nature even when we make conscious attempts to overcome them, and gives us signposts of our progress along the way.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pg. 423

Different Types and Sources of Dreams

Sri Aurobindo describes different types of dreams which should be distinguished so we can make sense of what the dream state is all about.

“Normally it is a subconscient part in us, intermediate between consciousness and pure inconscience, that sends up through this surface layer its formations in the shape of dreams, constructions marked by an apparent inconsequence and incoherence.”

Some are random bits and pieces of current daily life events, while others are pieces of memories triggered from the cells. Some dreams, while apparently phantasms or unconnected to our waking life, are actually symbolic structures trying to deliver meaning to us from either deep psychological drives that we have internalized in our lives, or even from archetypes of what C.G. Jung has described as the “collective unconscious”.

Dreams arising from the subconscious also may try to re-establish or re-enact actions or ideas that we have rejected in our waking consciousness, with the hope that what our waking awareness has thrown away, our subconscious self may accept. We begin to see that all thoughts, actions, impressions have in fact been stored in our subconscious, or in the inconscient parts of our selves, and can be triggered and can then emerge in the dream state.

Once we begin to recognize symbolic or psychological relevance to some dreams, we can no longer discount them as totally meaningless, of course.

While some dreams originate from the subconscious, there are also dreams that arise from the part of us, which can begin to express itself when our surface waking consciousness has temporarily withdrawn, as in sleep. This subliminal part can be in touch with not only the unconscious, but deeper occult levels that are connected as well to higher forces trying to manifest within our mind, life and body.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pg. 422

The Origin of Sleep and Dreams

While we may not be able to accept the dream-state as a fit analogy for the nature of human life, it would not be suitable to dismiss the experiences of the dream-state out of hand as worthless or purely chaotic. Sri Aurobindo reviews the nature of sleep and dreams: “What happens in sleep is that our consciousness withdraws from the field of its waking experiences; it is supposed to be resting, suspended or in abeyance, but that is a superficial view of the matter. What is in abeyance is the waking activities, what is at rest is the surface mind and the normal conscious action of the bodily part of us; but the inner consciousness is not suspended, it enters into new inner activities, only a part of which, a part happening or recorded in something of us that is near to the surface, we remember. There is maintained in sleep, thus near the surface, an obscure subconscious element which is a receptacle or passage for our dream experiences and itself also a dream-builder; but behind it is the depth and mass of the subliminal, the totality of our concealed inner being and consciousness which is of quite another order. ”

Sri Aurobindo describes the various types of dreams and their origin, which will be the subject of our next post. Because of the position of this subconscient dream-builder, it is possible that dreams have as their source either the waking life, or that deeper inner being, or states of awareness that are linked to us through that inner being.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pg. 422

Comparisons between Dream and Waking Life

There are other comparisons that can be made between the dream state and the waking life, and they all show the lack of correspondence between the analogy of dream and the reality of life in the universe, which reduces the value of this illustration for the purpose of condemning all life to an illusory status. Dreams, for the most part, do not provide continuity but appear to be unconnected, jumbled and chaotic in relation to one another. While a specific dream may appear to have significance, the dream does not generally pick up where the former dream left off with a sense of continuity. Waking life, on the other hand, appears to have continuity and consistency; while specific details may seem meaningless to us, the larger picture, and particularly the sense of continuousness, and the larger framework pattern of life and death, of organisation shows that the waking life clearly cannot be compared to the dream state on any kind of basis of equivalency. Sri Aurobindo points out “If our dreams wore like our waking life an aspect of coherence, each night taking up and carrying farther a past continuous and connected sleep-experience as each day takes up again our waking world-experience, then dreams would assume to our mind quite another character.” and “Again the evanescence of a dream is radical and one of the waking life is of details,–there is no evidence of evanescence in the connected totality of world-experience. ”

Dreams also do not generally exhibit the sense of self-awareness and at least partial control that we experience in our waking consciousness. Sri Aurobindo also discusses this point: “For in dream the coherence given by an observing inner consciousness is absent, and whatever sense of sequence there is seems to be due to a vague and false imitation of the connections of waking life, a subconscious mimesis, but this imitative sequence is shadowy and imperfect, fails and breaks away and is often wholly absent. We see too that the dream-consciousness seems to be wholly devoid of that control which the waking consciousness exercises to a certain extent over life-circumstances; it has the Nature-automatism of a subconscient contruction and nothing of the conscious will and organising force of the evolved mind of the human being.”

Thus, while the poetic imagery of the comparison between dream and waking life is attractive, on deeper reflection it can be seen to not adequately and accurately reflect the nature of waking life in a way that can guide us effectively.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pp. 420-421

Reality or Illusion of Various States of Consciousness

Dreams may not be unreal, as the analogy we have been reviewing holds. They may simply be an alternative state of consciousness, equally real, if different, from our waking state. The fact that we wake from a dream and believe it is no longer existent is not sufficient to actually and absolutely conclude that the dream experience was unreal or illusory. Sri Aurobindo explains: “for it may well be that there are different states of consciousness each with its own realities; if the consciousness of one state of things fades back and its contents are lost or, even when caught in memory, seem to be illusory as soon as we pass into another state, that would be perfectly normal, but it would not prove the reality of the state in which we now are and the unreality of the other which we have left behind us. If earth circumstances begin to seem unreal to a soul passing into a different world or another plane of consciousness, that would not prove their unreality; similarly, the fact that world-existence seems unreal to us when we pass into the spiritual silence or into some Nirvana, does not of itself prove that the cosmos was all the time an illusion. The world is real to the consciousness dwelling in it, an unconditioned existence is real to the consciousness absorbed in Nirvana; that is all that is established.”

There are of course other issues to be addressed in terms of the reality or illusion-status of the dream state or of life itself….

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 5, The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, pg. 420